Healthy Sleep – A vital building block for wellness and optimal performance

This World Sleep Day, the Sleep Wellness Team at Kaymed, who are the BCA’s Sleep Health Partners, share their expert advice for improving wellness and optimal performance through sleep. Scroll down to read more about what is the best sleep position, how to choose the right mattress and some top tips for achieving good quality sleep.

Individual patterns vary of course, but we will spend upwards of one-third of our lives sleeping. For centuries, sleep was little understood and assumed to be simply downtime when the brain had shut off and the body was at rest. In recent decades, however, we have gained an important new understanding of the complexity of sleep and its vital importance for good health and optimal performance.

There are neurological dimensions of sleep as it is important for maintaining our ability to think clearly, react quickly, create memories and function physically at our best. In fact, the pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep.

How much sleep is enough?

Sleep needs vary from person to person, and they change throughout your lifecycle. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sound sleep each night. Newborns, on the other hand, sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, while children in preschool may sleep between 10 and 12 hours daily. School-age children and teens need at least 9 hours of sleep each night.

Some people believe that adults need less sleep as they age, but there is no evidence to show that a person’s sleep needs diminish with age. Such ideas may be a reflection of the reality that older people do get less sleep, and we are more easily awakened as we age.

How do we go about achieving healthy sleep as a routine part of our good health program?

There are things that you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, the first of which is to consider the best position in which to sleep. Everyone will find the position that works best for them, and if you are waking up refreshed and having slept well, then stick to what works for you. But if you are finding it difficult to get comfortable, then here are some things to consider.

What sleep position is best?

There is no superior sleep position, and everyone needs to find the position that works best for them. If you are waking up refreshed and having slept well then stick to what works for you, but if you are finding it difficult to get comfortable then making simple changes such as your pillow height, adding small pillows under your knees or lower back, or trying a different position may help. Your chiropractor will be able to advise you on changes to try.

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Is my mattress important for proper sleep?

Indeed, yes! Your mattress is the basic foundation for healthy sleep. It is responsible for supporting your body for an average of 8 hours a day. When it is worn out, or too soft, the critical support you need for healthy sleep may be lacking. This can lead to a more restless night’s sleep and to backaches during sleep or upon arising.

Test your mattress

  1. Look at the mattress. Is it lumpy? Does it sag? Are the box springs worn or uneven?
  2. Lie down on your mattress. Does the mattress feel too soft? Do you sink into it? Does it creak when you move?
  3. Do you roll into a valley in the middle of the bed during the night?
  4. You may be desensitised. Lie down on a new mattress. Does the new mattress feel better?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, it may be time for a new mattress.

What kind of mattress should I use?

Look at four factors when choosing a mattress:

  1. Support – a good mattress should support the spine and help it maintain the same shape as a person with good upright posture. A very hard mattress can be uncomfortable because it can force the spine to arch or bow, instead of relax as the body relaxes. It can also create painful pressure at the shoulders and hips where body weight concentrates during sleep. A very soft mattress lacks support, allowing the spine to sag and placing stress on the muscles and ligaments. Possible misalignments of the spinal vertebrae may result.
  2. Comfort – Only you can decide what will be the most comfortable bedding combination for you. Put on comfortable clothes and test a mattress for 5 to 10 minutes before buying.
  3. Size – The average person moves 35 to 60 times during the night and turns over completely perhaps a dozen times. Make sure the bed is big enough for you to turn comfortably. Preferably, the mattress should be at least six inches longer than the individual using it.
  4. Quality – A high quality bed of proper size and firmness is worth the investment. It will provide years of comfort and support.

Top tips for improving the quality of your sleep

Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed

 A nightcap might help you get to sleep, but alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the sedating effects have worn off.

Don’t take naps after 15:00

Naps can boost your brain power, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Also, keep naps to under an hour.

Relax before bed

Take time to unwind. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.

Take a hot bath before bed

The drop in body temperature after the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax.

Have a good sleeping environment

Get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights or a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, keeping the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side can help you sleep better.

Have the right sunlight exposure

Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.

Don’t lie in bed awake

If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

Develop a sleep schedule that works best for you and stick to it

Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day — even on the weekends.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine

The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, some carbonated drinks, teas, and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully. Nicotine is also a stimulant.

Avoid large meals and beverages late at night

A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to use the bathroom.

See a Chiropractor or other healthcare professional if you continue to have trouble sleeping

If you consistently find yourself feeling tired or not well rested during the day, despite spending enough time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder.

Your Chiropractor can evaluate your needs and develop a personalised comprehensive care and wellness plan, and, if necessary, make an appropriate referral to another professional or professionals.